Huskies End Season With Semifinal Loss to Drexel

Story by Justin Diament and Milton Posner

Photos by Jordan Baron

HARRISONBURG, VA — “Whenever it ends, it ends.”

“It’s like you’re on a treadmill, you’re running about ten miles an hour, and somebody hits the stop button. And everything stops. Your mind, the players’ rhythm, ‘what time is practice tomorrow’, ‘what are we doing’, ‘what do we have to get better at’ — you’re just in that kind of cycle.”

Bill Coen had good reason to feel that way. One night after setting the Northeastern record for career wins, one night after his team notched a resounding playoff win without two players who had started every game to that point, they were done. A conference season that began with a seven-game winning streak and yielded a share of the regular season title ended with a 74–67 loss to Drexel in the semifinals of the CAA Tournament.

“The thing that doesn’t change at the end of the year is the emotion in the locker room,” Coen said, clearly dealing with plenty of it himself. “When you see guys get visibly emotional, although it’s tough, I think that’s a good sign. It shows how much they care, it shows how important it is to them, and it shows how much pride and character they have.”

Without the services of Shaquille Walters for the second day in a row, and without Jason Strong for most of the night, the Huskies couldn’t overcome Drexel’s potent, balanced attack or the one-dimensional nature of their own shorthanded offense.

“Ten days ago, a lot of us were in beds not even knowing if we were going to play,” forward Jahmyl Telfort said. “We practiced probably three times before the tournament.”

“We had guys who played in the game who weren’t even close to 100 percent,” Coen noted. “We had guys who were basically coming to the tournament without having practiced. So we were just trying to cobble it together with different guys and different lineups.”

Early on, Northeastern started relying on just two players to carry the scoring load, as All-CAA First Teamer Tyson Walker and Sixth Man of the Year Telfort notched 25 of the Huskies’ 29 first-half points. Telfort, who has typically had frigid first halves and white-hot second halves, turned in a performance to remember, ending the first frame with a game-high 13.

Walker was close behind with 12, and while both shooters posted efficient lines, Walker’s four missed threes — including an airball on his first attempt — were a harbinger of things to come.

Northeastern searched constantly for a third hot hand in Walters’s stead. The ailing Strong subbed in, committed several errors including an unforced inbound violation, and was done for the night. Vito Cubrilo played 23 minutes and contributed mightily with effort and aggression, but didn’t spark the offense much. Chris Doherty chipped in three points and five valuable rebounds, but was exceeded by his counterpart James Butler, who notched 12 points and 12 boards. Doherty did impact the game with the sort of defense that box scores elide, but the Dragons’ 38–26 rebounding advantage stung.

The Huskies’ defense kept them afloat. Northeastern made things difficult for Drexel ballhandlers — filling passing lanes, snatching steals, co-opting the shot clock as a sixth defender, and forcing Drexel to settle for poor shots.

“They’re really aggressive with their hands,” Drexel head coach Zach Spiker explained. “Coach Coen has built a culture of playing and defending without fouling.”

Unlike their wire-to-wire masterpiece from Sunday night, however, this iron defense would not last. As the first half progressed, the Dragons poked holes in the Husky fortifications, finding open looks under the hoop, in the midrange, and beyond the arc. They got diverse first-half contributions, with Xavier Bell, Zach Walton, and Camren Wynter notching seven points and TJ Bickerstaff adding six. Northeastern finished the half down just five, but Drexel held significant momentum and the Husky offense was still searching for answers.

Early in the second frame, Coen reached into his bag of tricks again and found an unexpected answer in reserve forward Alexander Nwagha. Nwagha, who had played just 41 minutes in the Huskies 18 previous games, restarted the defense with his length, leaping, and activity. Cubrilo also returned to the floor and made unexpected defensive contributions, grabbing two key steals and forcing an additional turnover as the Huskies clawed their way back.

Drexel kept Northeastern at arm’s length for the first half of the final period, but Northeastern finally made their move with eight minutes remaining. Telfort put in a nifty layup, followed by a fastbreak finish from Walker, a free throw from Doherty, and an emphatic stepback three from Telfort to bring the Huskies within one.

“We put a little game pressure on them,” Coen said. “Until that point, we hadn’t put any game pressure on them. We just needed one more stop.”

They didn’t get it. Drexel’s offense lit up and regrew the lead. The Dragons’ shooting barrage included the first of two threes from Butler, who had made just two treys all season.

“I knew it was going in,” Wynter said. “JB’s a good shooter and in practice he shoots guard numbers.”

“He’s shot a whole lot in his career, they just haven’t been in games yet,” Spiker added. “James Butler took advantage of the pandemic. James Butler evolved his game.”

Wynter, Walton, and Bell each turned in a double-digit performance on 50 perfect shooting or better, while Bickerstaff nearly matched Butler in rebounds. Defeating these performances would have required brilliance from Northeastern’s stars. They did get an 30-point masterpiece from Telfort, who also defended Wynter for long stretches.

“You could score 60 points or you could score zero,” a dejected Telfort said. “A loss is a loss.”

Walker finished with 23 points, four boards, and five assists, though his one-for-eight mark from downtown damaged his efficiency.

“I thought we did a great job on him, making everything tough, putting multiple bodies on him,” Wynter said. “We were just trying to tire him out and make him take a lot of contested shots, and we did just that.”

But the rest of the Huskies combined for just 14 points on 29 percent shooting, not enough to overcome Drexel’s four double-digit scorers. And thus ended a season that exceeded expectations in so many respects.

“Even though it was a young group, it was able to accomplish a lot of great things,” Coen said. “We earned a share of the CAA regular season title. I think we had the most road wins in the conference.

“It’s the beginning, not the end.”

Coen Breaks Program Wins Record, Huskies Advance to CAA Semis

Story by Justin Diament and Milton Posner

Photos by Jordan Baron

HARRISONBURG, VA — If you were paying attention, you could see the answers coming an hour in advance.

After each of his team’s last three wins, plus a CAA press conference a month ago, Northeastern head coach Bill Coen fielded a question about his march toward the program’s all-time wins record of 250, set by Hall of Famer Jim Calhoun from 1972 to 1986.

He offered nearly identical answers each time — rejecting comparisons to Calhoun’s vaunted résumé and deferring credit for the wins to his players, assistant coaches, the university, and medical, training, and support staff. It’s who he is, and it’s why he’s so respected around the conference. He’s naturally humble and gracious. He doesn’t strut. And the last thing he wants, especially after his team wins, is to make himself the story.

“Coaches get way too much credit,” he remarked after Sunday night’s game. “I haven’t scored a basket or grabbed a rebound in a long time. These guys do all the work.”

But after a 63–47 win over William & Mary made him the winningest coach in the history of a century-old program, he didn’t have any say in that. He was the story.

Or at least he was part of it. The win vaulted the second-seeded Huskies into the semifinals of the CAA Tournament, where they will battle the Drexel Dragons. Milton Posner, Jordan Baron, and Justin Diament will call that game for WRBB, with coverage beginning around 9:20 PM Eastern. 

“It meant more to me that we’re moving on and playing in the best month of the year — if you’re a college basketball fan,” Coen said. “It meant more to me that these guys were willing to play and show that type of heart and resilience given what we’ve been through.”

The road to this landmark win was not as easy as the final score suggests. Without key starters Shaquille Walters (out for the tournament) and Jason Strong (day-to-day), the Huskies looked lost offensively in the first half. Without Strong, a key perimeter shooter, and Walters, an important ballhandler, the Huskies spent their first 15 minutes searching for answers, and scored just 25 points by the intermission. 

“We hadn’t played in three weeks,” star point guard Tyson Walker said. “We were all in quarantine and stuff. We didn’t have that much time to practice. So coming back was rough . . . We all spoke a lot over quarantine. So we were mentally together; it was all about the physical.”

“I think we’ve played three games in about 40 days,” Coen added. “We really didn’t get much practice time before we got down here. Guys were getting out of quarantine at different times.”

Numerous strange lineup configurations found their way to the hardwood. One was a starting lineup featuring defensive-minded guard Quirin Emanga and back-from-injury big man Chris Doherty. Another featured starting point guard Tyson Walker and reserve guard Vito Cubrilo, who usually only enters the game to spell Walker.

Northeastern often meandered late into the shot clock, lacking direction and settling for contested looks. Strong pressure from the Tribe, who feature two CAA All-Defensive selections, piled on the pain for the disoriented Huskies, who racked up 10 first-half turnovers. Northeastern also went without an assist for nearly 15 minutes.

“The ball was sticking a little bit,” Coen explained. “A great metric for us is when you see assisted baskets; that means the ball is moving, it’s not sticking, we’re not overdribbling, we’re cutting better, attacking the paint. In the first half, we didn’t do enough of that.”

The culmination of these attempts to fill the shoes of Strong and Walters was the debut of freshman forward Connor Braun, who had missed the entire season with an ankle injury. Braun played just four minutes, but his presence in such a pivotal game indicated the Huskies far-reaching search for lineup answers. 

But they had a saving grace.

“All year long, our defense kept us in games,” Coen said. “That was consistent tonight. We did a really good job on the defensive end and gave ourselves a chance.”

They harassed William & Mary’s drives, collecting five first-half blocks from five different Huskies. Northeastern held William & Mary to just 38 percent shooting from the floor, which kept the game tight despite a massive turnover advantage for the Tribe. Confoundingly, despite the aggressive nature of the defense from both teams, neither side attempted a free throw in the first half. 

One first-half highlight for the Huskies was the return of Doherty, who hadn’t played major minutes since January 23. He grabbed seven first-half boards and created key second chances for the Huskies. His contributions on both ends were essential to mitigating the losses of Walters and Strong. 

With 5:58 remaining in the first half, the Huskies’ offensive woes had them in a 21–12 hole. However, back-to-back threes from Coleman Stucke and Walker served as harbingers of things to come, while another pair of downtown buckets from Emanga and Walker evened the score at 23. William & Mary finished the first half strong and took a three-point lead into the locker room, but the table was set for the turnaround.

Northeastern returned to the floor with a vengeance. Newly minted Sixth Man of the Year Jahmyl Telfort logged seven points in the opening three minutes, including a three-pointer that gave the Huskies a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. The Huskies quickly found another hot hand in Stucke, who splashed two deep threes to raise the Northeastern lead to double digits. Midway through the second half, Stucke led all scorers with 13, while adding five boards and two assists.

The Huskies settled into an offensive groove with contributions from numerous players, including buckets from Telfort and two nifty layups from Cubrilo. However, the biggest key to the sustained Husky dominance was Tyson Walker, who came alive after scoring only seven first-half points. He finished with 19 — including eight in a two-minute stretch — and contributed five rebounds and four assists. 

While Northeastern’s offense received a much-needed second half boost, their already-stout defense reached new heights. It was William & Mary’s turn to look lost offensively, as they managed just five second-half field goals and couldn’t keep pace with the invigorated Husky attack. Defenders harassed the Tribe’s ballhandlers and forced eight turnovers, many of which lead to transition opportunities.

Doherty continued to swallow the Tribe’s plentiful missed shots, and finished with an astounding 18 boards in his return. Additionally, both teams rediscovered the free-throw line, combining for 24 free throws in the second half after attempting none in the first. The Huskies outpaced the Tribe in this area as well, connecting on more foul shots despite fewer attempts. 

“We talked about him coming into the game,” Tribe head coach Dane Fischer said. “We talked about having a body on him every time the ball goes up, if not two . . . Eight offensive rebounds is way too many for anybody to have.”

“We lost two games in conference this year, and the only two games we lost we didn’t have Chris,” Coen noted. “You can see what kind of a difference he makes — controlling the paint, getting on the glass. Having that type of rebounding effort was special.”

“He’s a dog,” Walker said bluntly. “He works hard. He gets all of his stuff on his own.”

William & Mary was led by star senior Luke Loewe, who contributed 18 points, seven rebounds, and six assists in the Tribe’s lone bright performance. The only other Tribe player in double figures was Quinn Blair, who suffered a shoulder injury early on but pushed through the pain to record 11 points on inefficient four-of-11 shooting.

Northeastern Men’s Basketball Gives Syracuse a Run for Their Money

By Jordan Baron and Milton Posner

On Wednesday afternoon, the Northeastern Huskies were a young, undersized team entering the jaws of a basketball shark. They drove west to Syracuse to battle a team coached by a man who’s won more games than many of us have watched, the same team that most recently polished off Boston College by 38 points.

But in an expected turn, the Huskies led for much of the game and never trailed by more than seven. Though they ultimately fell to the Orange, 62–56, they walked away with plenty to be happy about.

Amid stringent Husky defense, the Orange struggled to hit shots, converting just 32 percent of their shots and a measly 11 percent of their threes. Although the Huskies didn’t block many shots, they had quite a few tips and touches that kept the Orange offense guessing.

“We tried to make life difficult for them,” said Northeastern Head Coach Bill Coen. “We’ve got some pretty good size on the wing, guys who can present some challenges and get up in shot pockets and make guys uncomfortable. For a young group, they really absorbed the scouting report.”

Early on, Husky freshman Coleman Stucke and Jahmyl Telfort splashed home three triples apiece to key the offense. Stucke sagged off eventually, but Telfort finished with 16 points to lead the team.

“He’s got a couple of mornings free where he doesn’t have classes — he’s in the gym all the time,” Coen said of Telfort. “When you’re blessed with the kind of talent that he has and you marry that with an incredible work ethic, you can see him evolving. He can go off the dribble, he can make a three, he rebounds the ball well, he’s a good two-way player, he’s a good defender.”

But the Orange countered with sophomore guard Joseph Girard III, who would finish with a team-high 21 points and six steals. Although his shooting was not exactly efficient, he was the only Syracuse player to hit a shot from beyond the arc, and he also hit all nine of his free throws.

The Huskies shot well from three-point range in the first half — knocking down 39 percent — and matched the much taller Orange on the glass. But they struggled with turnovers, committing nine in the period. Four were credited to Walker, who kept trying to find Telfort with tough-angle passes that sailed out of bounds. 

The second half began with disaster for the Huskies, as Walker dove for a loose ball and smashed his head against the shin of an Orange defender. He laid face-down on the floor before rolling onto his back, receiving assistance from trainers and coaches, and slowly walking off the floor under his own power. He did not re-enter the game, and Coen confirmed that he will be examined in Boston to determine whether he can play on Sunday.

Vito Cubrilo subbed in, looking to take Walker’s place as playmaker. He did his best, slotting five points off a three-pointer and some free throws, but the offensive rhythm was thrown off, as was the Huskies’ ability to break the occasional full-court press Syracuse threw at them. 

“We were without Tyson in the second half and he’s our number one creator, a guy that gives other guys some confidence,” Coen said. “So we had to shift roles a little bit.”

Still, the Huskies remained strong on defense, and thanks in part to the Orange missing some open looks, stayed in the game. Entering the final five minutes, they found themselves losing by just three points. Greg Eboigbodin and Shaquille Walters traded off playing time to stop them both from fouling out. Northeastern fell behind by five with four minutes to play, but Jason Strong, who had been quiet offensively all game, sank a three to bring the Huskies back within two. 

This is where things slipped away. Some careless Husky fouls and turnovers gave the Orange the opportunity to pounce, and they did, building a two-possession lead they wouldn’t relinquish. 

The Huskies’ three-point shooting fell off in the second half, neutering their most valuable weapon against a Syracuse 2-3 zone that ceded outside shots to protect the paint. Northeastern also committed 12 turnovers in the second half, compared to just five from Syracuse. The Huskies’ defense continued to shine, however, as they kept pace on the boards and forced another low-scoring half from an offense that hung 101 points on ACC foe Boston College in their last game.

“I was really proud of their effort,” Coen said. “I thought our defensive help was really strong. We just mishandled the ball a little bit too much. Little execution errors on the offensive end.”

Other than Girard, Syracuse’s top contributor was sophomore forward Quincy Gurrier, who scored 18 points and snatched 16 rebounds.

“The difference in the game was Quincy Guerrier,” Coen said. “Sometimes you just can’t do anything if he’s got a physical advantage, there’s not enough strategy that can get you out of that. He’s a world-class athlete and he’s strong and explosive.”

But despite the loss, the game will certainly prove instructive for the Huskies. Coen likes to use non-conference contests to show his team different styles and sets. The home-and-home with UMass forced them to reckon with a full-court press, and today’s matchup may prepare the Huskies well for the zone-playing Hofstra Pride.

“We’ve got some tape so we can get better on our zone execution, we’ve got tape so we can learn in terms of our press break,” Coen said, “and that experience will pay dividends once we get into CAA play.”

The Huskies will travel south to Virginia to face Old Dominion this Sunday. Milton Posner and Catherine Morrison will broadcast that game live from Chartway Arena in Norfolk, VA, with coverage kicking off at 1:45 PM Eastern.

CAA Preview: Northeastern Huskies

Last season: 23–11 (14–4 CAA, second place), won CAA Tournament, lost in first round of NCAA Tournament

Head Coach: Bill Coen (14th season)

CAA Preseason Poll Finish: Third

Losses

  • G Vasa Pusica
  • G Donnell Gresham Jr.
  • G/F Shawn Occeus
  • F/C Jeremy Miller
  • C Anthony Green

Additions

  • G Vito Cubrilo
  • G Tyson Walker
  • G Guilien Smith
  • G Quirin Emanga
  • G/F Shaquille Walters
  • F Greg Eboigbodin
  • F Connor Braun

By Milton Posner

Notwithstanding the clobbering from Kansas that sent the Huskies home, Northeastern had an superb 2018–19 season. They overcame injuries to key players as they battled through a challenging non-conference slate, then finished second in the conference standings behind a balanced offense and crippling perimeter defense.

In the CAA Tournament, they dismissed UNCW, exacted revenge on Charleston for the previous year’s tournament final defeat, then knocked off the Hofstra Pride and its unanimous Player of the Year Justin Wright-Foreman to capture the conference crown. The March Madness berth was Northeastern’s first since 2015.

Two-time CAA first-teamer Vasa Pusica graduated, as did bruising center Anthony Green and backup big man Jeremy Miller. Northeastern also lost two juniors. Savvy combo guard Donnell Gresham Jr. joined the Georgia Bulldogs for his final college season. Lockdown perimeter defender Shawn Occeus turned pro and was drafted 35th in the NBA G League Draft by the Salt Lake City Stars, the G League affiliate of the Utah Jazz. He joins Jarrell Brantley and Justin Wright-Foreman, both CAA first teamers, in the organization.

Sweet-shooting senior guard Jordan Roland figures to be the Huskies’ biggest offensive threat. He was the team’s second-leading scorer last season behind Pusica, with his school-record 99 three-pointers accounting for 60 percent of his points. He did most of his damage as a spot-up shooter, letting Pusica and Gresham create in the pick-and-roll and benefitting from the open looks their gravity created. Without them, Roland may have to create more opportunities for himself through drives, floaters, and off-the-dribble jumpers.

After two productive years coming off the bench — the second one worthy of the CAA Sixth Man of the Year Award — Bolden Brace made the starting lineup last year. He didn’t disappoint, starting all 34 games — the only Husky to do so — and averaging ten points per game on 47 percent shooting from the field and 41 percent from three. His six rebounds per contest led the team, and his 6’6”, 225-pound frame let him slow speedy guards and hold firm against bruising forwards. The Huskies will need every ounce of his versatility this season.

Redshirt junior Max Boursiquot can provide solid offensive contributions and defensive flexibility, though the hip injury that sidelined him last season may affect his mobility. Jason Strong, Myles Franklin, and Shaquille Walters saw limited minutes off the bench last year, but will likely be called on to score a bit and prop up the Huskies’ formidable three-point defense. Redshirt sophomore Greg Eboigbodin, who practiced with the team last season, will try to fill the hole the graduating Green left in the middle.

Quirin Emanga stands out among the new recruits. He’s an athletic 6’5’ guard/forward with a seven-foot wingspan and a burgeoning skill set. For a more detailed player profile of Emanga, click here.

Connor Braun is a mobile 6’8” forward with solid handles and driving ability. Vito Cubrilo’s speed and quickness earn him buckets on drives, he’s got a sweet-looking perimeter stroke, and, like Emanga, has played high-level European youth ball. Guilien Smith averaged 12 points per game his sophomore year at Dartmouth but missed almost all of the next season due to injury and saw his minutes — and numbers — drop when he returned. If he returns to form, he can mitigate the loss of Pusica at point guard. Tyson Walker, at just six feet and 162 pounds, will look to stand tall with his flashy drives and transition speed. Bill Coen, now the CAA’s longest-tenured coach after the firing of William & Mary’s Tony Shaver, is tasked with blending the new talent.

Bottom Line: This will likely be the first time in six seasons Northeastern doesn’t have an All-CAA first team player. This makes their balanced approach even more important. Unlike last year, they have a slew of new players whose production will prove necessary. How well Bill Coen incorporates the new players, and how well they perform, will determine whether Northeastern contends for a second straight CAA title or falls to the middle of the pack.